Battling Frustration

As preachers and leaders we learn to hide our inner struggles well.  Truth be known, however, frustration is a common battle that many preachers face on a constant basis.  The great Apostle Paul was no exception.

Acts 18:1-6 “After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers. And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ. And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.

I see frustration in the Apostle Paul’s words here.

As was his custom, every sabbath Paul did the best he could to convince folks to receive Christ as Saviour. Yet, the very people he loved the most, his people, the Jewish people, continually opposed him. In so doing, the Bible said they opposed themselves because little did they realize that the message of Paul, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was for their salvation. How frustrating it must be to continually reach out to the people you love, only to be constantly rejected!

To understand the magnitude of Paul’s frustration, you have to realize what all Paul had suffered up to this point.

Battles with the Brethren

Paul started his second missionary journey right after dealing with two very heated battles in Acts chapter 15. The first was a doctrinal battle. The Bible says that it was “no small dissension and disputation” (Acts 15:2). Paul and Barnabas defended the Gospel against those who insisted that circumcision and keeping the law was required for Gentiles who wished to be saved. There was much disputing (Acts 15:7) over this matter in Jerusalem where this controversy was finally settled as far as the apostles and the church in Jerusalem were concerned.

This great victory was short-lived however as a second battle, a more personal one, arose. This time the controversy was between Paul and his close friend and co-laborer Barnabas. The Bible called it a “sharp contention” as Paul and Barnabas argued on whether or not to bring John Mark along their next journey. The heated disagreement between Paul and Barnabas resulted in separation between two of God’s choicest soldiers, which was most unfortunate.

Despite the firmness of his position concerning John Mark, I can only imagine how broken-hearted Paul must have been to lose the fellowship of Barnabas. Barnabas, whose name means “son of consolation”, was the one who took upon himself the risk of accepting Paul when the other disciples did not trust Paul and therefore wouldn’t give him a chance (Acts 9:26-27). Barnabas vouched for Paul. Barnabas and Paul had been through a lot of battles together in their first missionary journey. Many trials. Many victories. They had a lot of history together. Their relationship ended on a bitter note.

Frustrated Ambition

The issue over John Mark was not resolved between the two. So Barnabas went his separate way to the island of Cyprus, taking John Mark with him. Paul chose the prophet Silas, a proven man (Acts 15:25-34), as his new partner and with the recommendation of the church he begins his second missionary journey.

After seeing much fruit in Cilicia, and after journeying into Galatia and Phrygia, Paul’s plan was to go south and minister in Asia Minor. However, despite his burden for the people of Asia, he was forbidden of the Holy Spirit to go that route (Acts 16:6).

So then Paul seeks to go north and evangelize Bithynia, untouched territory, and yet again the Holy Spirit prohibits him from going (Acts 16:7). I can only imagine how disheartening it must have been to have 2 doors in a row shut by the Lord.

But being the soldiers that they were, Paul and Silas (and now with the additions of Timothy and the physician Luke) remained stedfast as they traveled west, the only direction left to go. So they travel the long journey all the way to the coastal city of Troas. As they travel they are eagerly awaiting revelation from the Lord as to where they should minister next. They make it all the way to Troas with no answer from the Lord.

The Macedonian Call and Prison Time

Finally, in Troas the Lord gives Paul the direction he had been waiting for in a dream. In the vision, Paul is instructed to go to Macedonia. So they cross the Aegean Sea and begin mission work in new territory. They win a woman named Lydia and her household to the Lord.

But shortly thereafter they are forced to deal with a demon-possessed woman sent by Satan to cause confusion amongst the new converts. Paul rebukes this demonic infiltrator, casting the foul spirit out of her by the power of God. Rather than rejoice that a woman was liberated from demonic possession, the woman’s employers incite a rally against Paul and Silas causing them to be beaten and illegally thrown in prison.

Of course, the Lord uses Paul and Silas during their time in prison to minister to the inmates through song. Later they win the jailor and his household to the Lord.

A Pattern of Persecution

After being released from prison Paul and Silas travel to the city of Thessalonica to preach the Gospel. They see fruit there but again they face trouble as the local Jews form a mob of “lewd fellows of the baser sort” to assault the home of Jason where apparently Paul and Silas found lodging (Acts 17:5). This opposing mob take their complaints to the rulers of the city causing a stir amongst the people which forced Paul and Silas to have to leave that city.

They travel to Berea where they run into some folks said to be more noble than the people of Thessalonica due to their sincere interest in the preaching of Paul. However, once word of Paul’s success in Berea reached Thessalonica, the lewd Jewish troublemakers that opposed Paul there travel all the way to Berea to stir up more controversy against God’s men.

We see a pattern. Paul goes to a town. He preaches. Folks get saved. Others get mad. There’s opposition. Then persecution. Finally, Paul is forced to leave the town and start mission work all over again in another area.

Do you know how aggravating it is to live what some might even perceive to be an unstable lifestyle, moving from town to town? Yet this was the life of the first missionaries ever sent out of a local church. A life of constant travel, yet with souls being saved and churches being established all along the way despite the setbacks, opposition, and afflictions.

My point is this. This must have been a VERY frustrating life. Yet, Paul, being the soldier that he was, soldiered on.

Because of the trouble in Berea, Paul is forced by the brethren against his will to leave Berea for his own safety. Silas and Timothy remain in Berea to try and finish what was started amongst the new converts there.

A Really Tough Audience

So Paul then arrives in the city of Athens. Try to imagine the mix of emotions Paul must have felt by this time. Here is Paul, without the company of his partners Timothy and Silas. There were no cell phones, email, or Facebook back in those days. He has no way of knowing how his companions or the new converts in Berea are doing. His heart was still in Berea. He saw many souls saved there. He was forced to leave an area filled with noble people that had a sincere interest in his message. Now, he is stuck in the infamous city of Athens. A very difficult and vexing place if you’re a Christian. This is where the anti-God philosophers came from. Athens was filled with reprobates who thought themselves to be wise yet were fools. The Bible called Athens a “city wholly given to idolatry” (Acts 17:16).

Well Paul, being the preacher that he was, gets all stirred up in his spirit about this wicked city’s spiritual plight. I can only imagine that his stirred spirit was also accompanied with frustration. When you are frustrated you want to vent. So how does a preacher vent? By preaching the devil out of folks! That’s how. That’s exactly what Paul did (Acts 17:17-31).

By now you should know what happened. Opposition. Again. Some called Paul a “babbler” (Acts 17:18). Others mocked his preaching about the resurrection. They considered Paul to be crazy.

But there were some who were at least curious enough to want to hear Paul out again. And there were others who even got saved! God’s word never returns void.

The Boiling Point

After much ridicule by the upper crust of society, Paul leaves Athens and heads for Corinth. There he meets a godly couple, Aquila and Priscilla. He helps them in their tentmaking business.

Now this might be a stretch. But I wonder if this caused even more frustration for Paul. The Apostles were to be wholly given to the word of God and prayer (Acts 6:4), not making tents in order to make ends meet financially. Financial frustrations can many times be the worst kind of frustration. Financial pressures have crushed many of God’s servants.

Of course, Paul was a real man. He was not afraid to work if he had to in order to survive. But as a preacher myself, I know what it is like to hold back frustration as you work a secular job when your heart is not in it but rather it is in the ministry of which God called you to. Proverbs 13:12 “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick…”

Add to this possible frustration that Paul felt the frustration of still not knowing how his collaborators in the Gospel, Timothy and Silas, were doing, nor how the Berean converts were doing, and you can begin to understand that Paul’s frustrations are developing to a boiling point. Paul the Apostle was a great man of God. But he was still a man, with like passions as you and me.

Of course, it’s not long before Paul finds himself preaching again. He can’t help himself. Its what preachers do, no matter the circumstances. It’s all we know to do.

So Paul preaches in Corinth. Finally, Timothy and Silas catch up with Paul in Corinth. I’m sure that was a great relief to be reunited with his friends.

Yet this reunion was not enough to eliminate all the pent-up frustration that had developed within him. Up to this point, Paul has had to deal with doctrinal debates, arguments, the loss of a close friend, shut doors, demonic encounters, continual rejection, beatings, imprisonment, constant fleeing, opposition, ridicules, name-calling, and a whole lot of traveling. He is worn out! As Paul strives to preach Jesus to the Jews in Corinth they again oppose him and even blaspheme the Lord.

Paul has had enough. Paul shakes his raiment and takes his frustrations out on these rebellious Jews, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6). It’s as if Paul was saying, “Fine! I’ve had enough with your stubbornness! You want to suffer the consequences of murdering Jesus and reject the forgiveness that God is offering you to rescue you from hell, well have it your way! I’m done with you guys. Adios!!!” (Paul could speak in tongues.)

Paul had come to his wits end. He has reached his limit. After trying over and over and over again to help his people, whom he loved so much, he has determined the Jews to be a lost cause.

Yet, in this moment of frustration, Paul failed to see that his efforts were not entirely in vain. For through this same preaching that was blasphemed against, Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, got saved (Acts 18:8)! In fact, all of Crispus’s household was saved. Also many Corinthians were saved and baptized.

In fact, it is interesting to note that it was in an epistle to these same Corinthian Christians that Paul wrote the following words:

1 Corinthians 15:58 “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

The Lord’s Intervention

Paul was so bent out of shape that he was ready to give up on this area. Yet little did he realize that God was using his efforts and working in the background.

Sometimes we can get so frustrated with people that we fail to remember that God is doing a work in men’s hearts that we cannot see. Most of the time we will not see God’s divine working until it comes to fruition. It is not for us to see everything God is doing in the background. It is our responsibility to continue going forward, doing our part, preaching Jesus all the way, and trusting that as we work God is also working!

After the conversion of many Corinthian souls, the Lord manifests Himself to the battle-worn, frustrated Paul:

Acts 18:9-10 “Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city.”

I can only imagine that the Lord’s still small voice comforted Paul in his hour of need.

People will frustrate you. But that’s the ministry. The ministry is people. And people are rebellious by nature. Don’t take it personal. They are opposing themselves.

Don’t let frustration get the better of you. Dear servant of God, you are only human. Even Paul got frustrated. But the reason why Paul was such a great man of God is because despite his frustrations, Paul soldiered on. After the Lord’s manifestation to Paul the Bible says in Acts 18:11 “And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”

Before that, Paul was frustrated. But God was faithful! So Paul stayed obedient to God and the result was many souls saved and churches established for the glory of God. Paul learned how to deal with the frustrations of the ministry and when it was all said and done he finished his course with joy.

As the old-time preachers said, “Don’t get bitter. Get better!” Keep on plowing! Onward! Despite the frustrating circumstances, your labour is not in vain in the Lord. It will be worth it all.

2 Timothy 2:3 “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”

 

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